The Sun's Michael Sragow got a chance to talk with Baltimore native Wes Moore, whose new book, "The Other Wes Moore," explores the way that family, luck and other factors can determine the course of our lives. The author, a Johns Hopkins-educated Rhodes scholar, compares his life to that of another Wes Moore from Baltimore -- a guy serving a life sentence for killing an off-duty police officer. Here's an excerpt from the Q&A (Sragow will have a longer story on Moore Sunday, so check back at Read Street then):
Q: Your father died young, when you were 3. The other Wes Moore told you, "You're father wasn't there because he couldn't be; my father wasn't there because he chose not to be." Did you see the parallels as well as the differences, immediately?
A: Even when I was young, there were times I could tell my mother wasn't handling my father's death well, but she was trying to make life for us as normal as possible. She was shielding us from loss and the meaning of loss, though she ended up losing control of her own life in many ways. That was the impetus for her calling up her parents and saying, "I need help." Her kids were getting older, ready for school. We had a lot of relatives from my father's side of the family in Maryland, and she had lots of college friends; everyone was being very supportive. But she found something compelling about the idea of going to live with her parents, at the home they had lived in for decades in the Bronx.
Wes' mother Mary didn't have that option as a single parent. Her own mother died when Mary was a teenage mother herself, and that death devastated Mary's father. Mary did what she could do, moving to different neighborhoods, from Pennsylvania Avenue and Cherry Hill to Northwood and Dundee Village. But the challenge of being a mother is so daunting.
Q: The Bronx wasn't the answer for you, even when your mother sent you to Riverdale Country School in the one plush part of the borough. Isn't part of the book's point that when you're trying to course-correct the lives of "at-risk" kids, you can't just take them back and forth between some protected enclave and the streets?
A: Sometimes you think the answer is plucking kids out their communities, but that can be almost the worst thing. The Riverdale story illustrates that. It's a beautiful school, and my mother knew all about it from the time she was a girl; she knew that JFK went there. She thought that would be it: that's where I needed to go. But that's where I got lost. Unless you have help making that transition, that kind of move can be counter-productive. You need to have people who can make the ties between what you learn in a place like that and how you experience life in your neighborhood. There's got to be a more holistic way to address coming to adulthood. Transplanting is not the solution.